MACKSON WASAMUNU, Lusaka
THREE years after the country’s independence, Agnes Bukuluma Chirwa was among Seventh-day Adventist Church (SDA) pioneers that founded the Libala SDA Church choir in 1967, a singing group dedicated to evangelising the gospel of Jesus Christ through music.
At the recent celebrations to mark the group’s golden jubilee under the theme, “Celebrating God’s Grace,” Mrs Chirwa, 75, who is also wife of former mayor of Lusaka Fleetfort Chirwa, participated actively.
Mrs Chirwa sings alto and contra alto. She is still an active member of the SDA church as well as the Libala Church Choir where she still sings actively.
A teacher by profession, her husband, Mr Chirwa, was the third Zambian mayor of the city of Lusaka after independence, serving for four years from 1969 to 1973. In 1973, he became Kanyama member of Parliament until 1983.
He also served as the first Zambian secretary general of Zambia Red Cross Society taking over from a white man.
Mrs Chirwa remembers meeting high profile leaders who visited Zambia during the time when her husband was mayor of Lusaka.
“I remember meeting people like [Nicolae] Ceausescu of Romania, Tito [Josip Broz] President of Yugoslavia then.
Mrs Chirwa married Fleetfort in 1962 when they both worked as teachers in Lusaka.
They have five children, four girls and one boy.
She counts her grandchildren to be more than five.
“I didn’t even know that Fleetfort would one day be my husband,” she says. “There was nothing like we would fall in love because we were just like brother and sister. Fleetfort was missing from his class which was next to mine and no one knew where he was when I found him lying next to his vomit. I picked him and cleaned him using a cloth scooping out all the vomit. Little did I know that he had been drinking.”
She says after that incident, Fleetfort shoved a letter under the door of her room where he expressed his love and desire to marry her because he felt she was a caring and loving person.
There is something about Mrs Chirwa that endears her to people.
“I joined the Libala SDA Church Choir in 1990, and some of the elderly people I found singing in the group were Mrs Agnes Chirwa, wife of former Lusaka mayor Fleetfort Chirwa, Mrs Chingo and Mrs Sianga, wife of a former minister in the UNIP government, Mbambo Sianga,” Tracy Lisulo says.
Ms Lisulo says despite their age and status in society, Mrs Chirwa and Mrs Sianga showed humility and commitment towards choir programmes.
“I later learnt that the church choir was established in 1967 and that Mrs Chirwa was one of the pioneers,” she says. “Coincidentally, I was also born in 1967, the year the choir was founded and Mrs Chirwa happens to be my own mother’s age mate. This makes Mrs Chirwa a real mother figure to me.”
She says while other elderly people have stopped singing in the choir for various reasons over the years, Mrs Chirwa has persevered and seen new members grow.
“Together, we have weathered many storms as the church choir embarked on various evangelistic campaigns at home and abroad,” she says. “Fondly known as Mama Chirwa, the elderly lady has not only sung with us but she has also been a dependable counsellor and a great inspiration to many of us.”
Ms Lisulo says Mrs Chirwa’s love and zeal for the work of God is truly awesome.
“It therefore gives me great joy to celebrate the Libala SDA Church Choir’s 50th Anniversary with this inspiring and zealous woman of God,” she says.
Mutale Kangwa, who joined the Libala SDA choir in 1983 and rose to become one of the church music directors, has nothing but praise for Mrs Chirwa.
“In Mrs Chirwa, you find a well-grounded Christian who you can rely upon with a lot of wisdom and leadership qualities who has added a lot of strength to that choir,” Mr Kangwa says.
“She is a person who embraces everyone and takes gospel music seriously and follows the sight-reading in music, that is when you are doing the music in notes; Mrs Chirwa is a well accomplished gospel singer.”
Willy Kalumba, who is the current Libala Choir director, describes Mrs Chirwa as dedicated and one who talks about the need to be committed to the calling of gospel music.
“She encourages us to desist from earthly desires and activities that might otherwise derail our commitment to the cause and mission of the church to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ through music,” Mr Kalumba says.
Joshua Ziela, an elder in charge of the music department at the church, says Mrs Chirwa is someone who inspires a lot because of her age.
“If you look at her commitment, she is just an inspiration to all of us,” Mr Ziela says.
Apart from singing in the choir, Mrs Chirwa has also been actively involved in the church where she has held various leadership roles.
Between 1998 and 2005, she served as Women’s Ministries director at the then Zambia Union Conference of the SDA Church.
Prior to that, she had served at different levels as Dorcas leader for 15 years.
But while Mrs Chirwa was busy with church, her husband was also busy elsewhere. He only came to join the church later. He was actually baptised on October 24, 2000.
Mrs Chirwa is from Nyangwena in Chief Bunda Bunda’s area in Chongwe where she grew up.
Her parents settled there from Southern Rhodesia [Zimbabwe] in 1950; they were among 100 men who came with their families from Southern Rhodesia at the request of the governors of Southern Rhodesia and Northern Rhodesia [Zambia] to come and teach farming skills.
She is born from a polygamous marriage where her mother, Aidah Moyo, was the first wife.
Her father, Mr Ncube, had three wives.
She is the seventh child of Aida Moyo and Mr Ncube in a family of eight children comprising five boys and three girls.
She started her Sub A, in 1950 right at Nyangwena before proceeding to Kasisi Mission in 1953 where she later completed her standard six in 1959.
She recalls how she could not proceed to Maramba in Livingstone for a teacher’s training course because her father could not pay for her education despite having had a lot of wealth.
Fortunately, her mother supported her to reach not only standard six but through her teacher training at Minga College in Petauke, Eastern Province.
While at Minga, she says she was always ready to help the lepers each time there was something to be done for them.
Mrs Chirwa says while at Minga, there were a lot of lepers who were discriminated against. Others actually caught leprosy and died but that did not deter her from serving those who lived in the leper’s colony.
Mrs Chirwa also recollects, how, as a young child, she connected with God and came up with a prayer which she still says to God before retiring to bed.
“After our family vespers, I would still go to my bedroom and would have my short prayer, ‘Lord, now I want to sleep, if I die in my sleep, Lord bless me and keep me Amen’,” she says.
As a civil servant, she was among the first teachers that opened Chunga Primary School which was located at the place where Matero Police is situated now occupying an officers’ house.
From Chunga, Mrs Chirwa was sent to teach at Tunduya near Munali before being moved to Chilenje.
According to Mrs Chirwa, she saw the University Teaching Hospital being constructed at a place where what was called the European Hospital used to be.
She says people should also know that you can be involved in the secular world and at the same time do God’s work.
“At independence, we sat in front witnessing everything that happened even when the Union Jack was pulled down and the Zambian flag was being hoisted,” Mrs Chirwa.
Mrs Chirwa thanks God for His boundless love and grace throughout her life.
For her, ministering through music has been and remains exciting as it is one of the things that she does with her whole heart.